Whole House Surge Protector

hikkerAugust 18, 2008

I'm having new HVAC installed and interested in having a whole-house surge protector installed at breaker panel to protect equipment from spikes, sags caused by typical line current and lightning. I see modules for around 200 dollars plus an electrician's labor. Wise investment or misguided waste?

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Good idea, although they don't protect against sags. One type is about $45 at Home Depot/Lowes. $200 seems high.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 6:49AM
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The ones in the 40-$60 range are usually the type that look like a breaker and do a good job on a close lighting strike and work only once, in that case.

The one youre seeing at 175-$200, install externally to the panel, thus you wonÂt lose two breaker spots and do a much better job of overall surge protection.
The performance is rated by how many Joules and amps they can handle and absorb.

The cheap one will be around 500 Joules/20,000 amps while the $200 ones handle up to 3,500 Joules+ and 60,000 amps+.

If you can afford, go for the better protection if that is what you were looking to do, protect your home and equipment.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 10:19AM
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The $45 unit I referenced in my post above is an external unit. I have installed three of them in lightning prone areas, with good results. I.E., markedly lower incidents of my UPS turning on during electrical storms.

They were available at a reasonable price. Higher priced units may have better specs. I would ask the electrician which model he is going to install, then look up the specs online.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 11:10AM
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While whole house surge protectors are a good idea, you should consider this. They are good at handling high current surges, they clamp at higher voltages (not good for electronics) and their response time is slower than a good in-house single line protector. The mains surge protector is good for protecting refrigerators, ovens, etc, not PCs. Even if you have a mains protector you absolutely need a good surge protector for each electronic device and includes items such as cable inputs. The typical in home single outlet surge protector while handling lower current surges, reacts faster thereby protecting the end device. The main breaker surge suppressor will handle the very high current and joules (energy).

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 2:10PM
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Most utilities have a 'meter treater' service or some sort of surge protection available at the meter. They come and pull your meter and install the unit in place of your meter and then install the meter on the unit. I think it is about $5.00 a month and they replace the unit if it takes a hit. They have a green and red LED green if everything is good and red if it needs service or has taken a hit. I think most utilities with automated meter reading can tell if the unit has been compromised, they will come and replace the unit and leave notification that it was replaced blah blah so you can call the surge protectors insurance company to report a claim if need be.... OH did I mention most have insurance on losses? and no paperwork to prove that you have or had a surge protector and oops forgot to send in the warranty/insurance/registration form. Just a copy of your utility bill to prove you have the service. It is pretty darn cheap with a low hastle factor.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 11:48PM
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With respect to my new furnace and air conditioner, since they both contain electronics, but are hard-wired, would a whole-house unit give the necessary degree of protection?

Also, as our electric lines are all underground, with distribution transformers on-ground, is the same degree of protection required?


    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 10:00PM
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I'm not sure how we got off track with plug in units, strips and so on since we were discussing panel units but, yes, they are worth it. I'm not saying I havent protected my computers and plasmas individually but I have some comfort knowing the remaining appliances have some protection, especially the concealed wiring.

Lighting strikes are unpredictable and can hit the ground anywhere near your house and travel in the underground feed.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 10:29PM
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I spoke with local electric utility provider, Duke Power. Unfortunately they have or provide no such device as a "meter treater" referenced in earlier post. Too bad, sounded really attractive.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 12:25PM
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Ummm, not really. At one property at which I installed a whole house surge protector, the utility wanted $60 to install plus $6.95 a month. The installation alone would have cost more than I spent to buy and install one myself. The $6.95 a month forever, or until they raised it, sounded like rip-off to me.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 12:43PM
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Piedmont Electric In North Carolina installed a surge protector outside my house near the meter. It cost about $200, and no monthly fee. I agree that protection of individual sensitive devices like PCs and high end TVs is a good idea.

But there's another issue that I'm not entirely clear about. It was my understanding that the surge protector protects against sudden spikes in voltage that can occur when power is restored after an outage. I remember reading in one of these forums a few months ago that they do not protect against lightning strikes, and that lightning rods are a good idea for that protection because they direct the current from the lightning into the ground where it can do no harm. Unfortunately, they do not always work because the lightning can sometimes strike where there is no rod.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 5:45PM
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This is grossly oversimplifying things, but here goes. Surge protectors protect against spikes. Lightning is just a very big spike. If the strike is far enough away, the protector can help to tame it. If it is very close, the protector will be toast.

A lot of things cause spikes and surges on power lines. Lightning and power restoration are just a couple of the many events that can damage sensitive equipment. Others include welding equipment, motors, solenoids, switching heavy currents, etc. Lightning rods ("air terminals") at your house won't help a bit if the strike enters the power line down the road. Most surges/spikes are coupled directly to the power line by the offending equipment. Lightning doesn't require a direct hit. A strike hundreds of feet or more from the closest power line can and will couple spikes into power lines.

Lightning protection is a very complicated subject. Relatively few people are are experts in the field. Below is a link to technical data at Polyphaser Inc., a major supplier of surge suppression equipment. Enjoy the read.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 7:33PM
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Using the "KISS" method to understand this subject, a reasonable effort of installing both "main" and secondary surge protectors addresses the need for total protection of your home. Nothing will guaranty absolute protection. When it comes to protecting your sensitive electronic equipment, make sure you use a good quality suppressor. Not all surge units can do the job....you'll never find out until :(

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 9:40AM
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I work for a electric utility and just because your subdivision is all underground and the transformers are pad mounts it comes from above ground somewhere and I bet it is fed underground off a dip pole closer to your home than you think. There are or should be lightning arrestors on the line above ground and as part of or in addition to your transformer. I just wanted to make sure you know that just because your service and system in the proximity is underground that somewhere it is vulnerable. It would be extremely costly and almost impossible to protect a system from a direct lightning strike, but there are steps to fairly well protect from anything close to a direct hit.

The meter treater or likenesses thereof can withstand some pretty amazing hits and are meant to work in addition to regular point of use surge protection devices. If it takes one shot too many and fails, the utility will come stab a new one on.

If that is not available than a QUALITY breaker style unit would be the next best option.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 3:18PM
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I have the meter treater installed at my house and live in an area that went through Tropical Storm Fay. The electricity went on/off in rapid succession a few times and now my air conditioner isn't working properly (blowing hot air). Could this have been caused by the power going on/off or is it just a coincidence? When I called the surge protection claim line, they said if was due to the power issues then the whole unit wouldn't work at all. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 7:50PM
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Their statement is false. Spikes could have blown the circuit board, if your unit has one. It could have also failed due to slugging. Slugging occurs when the compressor trys to compress liquid refrigerant as opposed to gas refrigerant. This can happen when a running air conditioner is stopped by a power failure, then quickly started again before the system has time to stabilize.

Rapid on and off power cycles are really bad on older compressors. Newer compressors are usually of the scroll type which can pretty much tolerate this stuff.

In any event, the blower motor is usually not affected, so their statement that the unit wouldn't work at all is bogus.

Your best bet is probably to call a good air conditioner service company and have them repair it. Try to get them to write something like 'failed due to power surge" on the work order, and then present that to the power company.

I suspect they will still try to get out of paying for the damage, but you might as well give it a try.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 7:01AM
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I would go to whoever does the meter treater claims with two written estimates of repair/replacement and they both need to state that it is surge related. I would go to your insurance company next with surge/storm damage.

Best of luck to you.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 3:40PM
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> I'm having new HVAC installed and interested in having a whole-house surge
> protector installed at breaker panel to protect equipment from
> spikes, sags caused by typical line current and lightning.

Too many accurate and other bogus replies to praise or correct. Some will be addressed here.

'Whole house' protection is the only solution for protecting all household appliances - especially electronics. But a protector does not do protection. You earthing must be upgraded to both meet and exceed post 1990 National Electrical code. All electricians understand how to meet code. Only a few understand what is necessary to make the same earthing system sufficient for surge protection.

Your earth ground must be upgraded so that the connection from breaker box to earth, via the protector, is short (ie 'less than 10 feet'). For example a bare quarter inch copper wire leaves the breaker box to earth ground. You follow that wire. If it goes up over the foundation and down to an earth ground rod, then it is too long and has too many sharp bends. Protection subverted. That wire must go through the foundation and down to earth ground. Many feet shorter. No sharp wire bends. Ground wire separated from all other electrical wires.

Again, concepts that so many electricians do not understand. And also why plug-in protectors do not even claim to provide effective protection.

If the only ground wire is to cold water pipes, your earthing is so insufficient as to essentially not exist (for surge protection). To not even meet human safety codes.

The most critical component in every surge protection system is not a protector. A protector is nothing more than a connecting device. Your protection is earth ground. Only a few electricians have sufficient electrical knowledge to understand what that means. Why, for example, sharp wire bends going over the foundation subverts surge protection. Or why the ground connection must be single digit feet long - as short as possible.

Same applies to any other wire entering the building. For example the cable TV wire must also connect just as short to the same earth ground before entering.

Any wire that enters without being first earthed puts your HVAC (and all other household electronics) at risk.

How to make better protection? Any money wasted on plug-in protectors is better spend upgrading the earthing. How to make the same âwhole houseâ protector even more effective? Upgrade and expand the earthing. A protector is only as effective as its earth gorund. Which is why adjacent protectors do not claim to do protection. And sometimes can make electronics damage easier.

Distance between protector and appliance increases appliance protection. Shorter distance from protector to earth also increases all appliance protection. Just another reason why a 'whole house' protector is so effective for HVAC.

A minimally sized protector starts at 50,000 amps. Only those educated by retail myths will define a protector as a one shot device. If any protector fails during a surge, the protector was probably a scam. 50,000 amps because an effective protector connects even direct lightning strikes (ie 20,000 amps) to earth. And remain functional. And does same for all smaller surges. Hard honest answers come with numbers. One that is important. A âwhole houseâ protector starts at 50,000 amps to make even lightning irrelevant.

About 50,000 amps or higher. Another critical number - less than 10 foot connection to single point ground.

Lightning strikes utility wires down the street. That is a direct lightning strike to all household appliances if the âwhole houseâ solution is not implemented. Not every appliance is destroyed. A surge will choose which to damage by chosing a path to earth. However, if the surge is earthed before entering, then no energy is inside hunting destructively via appliances. The most common surge is a lightning strike to incoming wires.

Sometimes (much less often), lightning may seek earth via a chimney or via the attic light. So we also earth a lightning rod. But one should consider the risk. A destructive surge (lightning and other sources) occurs maybe once every seven years. Lightning averted by a lightning rod is even less frequent. One must learn from numbers such as neighborhood history to determine if a lightning rod is also necessary. TV roof antennas properly earthed as required by code also act as lightning rods.

A 'whole house' protector will also avert house fires and other problems created by power strip protectors. Protection is always about where energy dissipates. If that energy is inside the house (ie via a cable TV wire), then nothing stops a hunt for earth destructively via appliances (ie computer). Either a surge connects short to earth before entering. Or all appliances (electronic and motorized) are at risk. A âwhole houseâ protector is also necessary to protect power strip protectors that are often so grossly undersized as to be one-shot protectors.

All appliances contain massive protection. Anything a plug-in protector might do is already accomplished inside every appliance (including the HVAC). Your concern is a rare and destructive surge that can overwhelm protection already inside appliances - including HVAC. That surge is only averted by earth ground. Either a protector connects destructive energy to earth outside the building. Or that protector is best called a scam.

Utilities can rent or install a 'whole house' protector behind the meter. But utilities do not install earth ground. Only the homeowner is responsible for providing and maintaining the only thing that provides surge protection - single point earth ground.

Wires underground do not provide surge protection. Every wire (overhead or underground) inside every cable must connect short to single point ground. No exceptions. If not - if a buried wire interconnects two buildings. Then a surge to one building can act like a lightning rod connected to appliances in the second building. Even underground wires that enter each facility must connect short to single point ground.

Sags are not averted by protectors. Even incandescent bulbs dimmed to 50% intensity means ideal power to all electronics. But that can cause havoc to motorized appliances (ie HVAC). Therefore an HVAC controller must make sags irrelevant. If voltage drops too low, the controller must stop motors. And if power is restored too quickly, then the controller must wait long enough for a restart to cause no damage. Sags are addressed by properly designed electronic controllers. Surges can only be averted where wires enter the building - via earth ground.

A âwhole houseâ protector is required by everyone reading this. Only effective protection for every household electronics including bathroom GFCIs, smoker detectors, dishwasher, computers, and HVAC. One 50,000 amp âwhole houseâ protector connected as short as possible (ie âless than 10 feetâ) to single point earth ground. And an expanded earthing system.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2010 at 2:04PM
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I have a 200amp, single-phase home in an electrically active area of TX. I have had the same whole home surge protectors from Delta Surge Protectors (I installed the LA302 and CA302 units, one for 50,000amp spikes and one for the little surges from the power lines) for the past 10 years, with lots of storms passing through...No problems! I think I spent about $40each for the units. The mfr guarantees for life because it's a silicon-based arrestor (from what I was told), which doesn't wear out. Hope this helps other new homeowners - I wish I had been aware of this forum when I first purchased my home! Thanks,

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 3:03PM
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